The last couple of trips to the Outback Bowl have not been kind to Iowa, but the first college football game to played in 2019 had a much more enjoyable outcome for the Hawkeyes. Iowa (9-4) used a big second quarter and a strong defensive showing in the fourth quarter to hold on for a 27-22 victory over No. 18 Mississippi State (8-5).
Mississippi State had a chance to take the lead early in the fourth quarter with a first-and-goal from the Iowa one-yard line, but three straight runs by Nick Fitzgerald were stuffed by the Hawkeyes and the Bulldogs settled for a short field goal by Jace Christmann to cut the Iowa lead to 24-22. Fitzgerald got one final chance to deliver a win for Mississippi State with the Bulldogs down 27-22 in the final minutes of the game, but an incomplete pass on fourth down allowed Iowa to run out the remaining seconds of the clock to wrap up the win.
Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley completed 21 of 31 pass attempts for 214 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. The running game had a rough afternoon against the Mississippi State defense, however, as the Hawkeyes combined for a loss of 14 yards running the ball, including sacks of Stanley. Mississippi State had a much more productive day on the ground with 190 yards as a team, fueled by 103 yards by Fitzgerald, who also passed for 152 yards on 14-of-32.
Nick Easley caught two of the touchdown passes thrown by Stanley. And although it took until the second half of the game to get him in the box score, T.J. Hockenson had three catches for 43 yards that came in important moments.
The win by Iowa was the first for the Big Ten this bowl season against the SEC after dropping the previous two matchups on the bowl calendar. The Iowa win also put the Big Ten above .500 this bowl season, pending the results of other bowl games being played on Jan. 1. The loss by Mississippi State at least temporarily dropped the SEC to .500 with other games still being played.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is now 8-8 all-time in bowl games and has won two consecutive bowl games after snapping a five-game losing streak in bowl games a year ago in the Pinstripe Bowl. This was the first bowl game for Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead as a head coach, so his search for a bowl victory will continue in the 2019 season.
This, of course, means Outback Steakhouse will be giving away free coconut shrimp to customers as the Big Ten won the Outback Bowl. A win by the SEC would have awarded customers free bloomin’ onion.
Mississippi State seemed to start the game off well on defense, but big plays by Iowa’s offense and defense have stunned the Bulldogs in the first half of the Outback Bowl in Tampa. Iowa turned a 6-0 deficit after one quarter of play into a 17-6 advantage at halftime with big plays on both sides of the football.
Mississippi State cornerback Maurice Smitherman was ejected from the game early in the second quarter for targeting on Iowa’s Brandon Smith. Smith kept on his feet after the contact was made and scrambled to pick up two yards on the play by sweeping to the other side of the field, but the 15-yard penalty moved the Hawkeyes to the Mississippi State 33-yard line. The drive ended with Iowa scoring their first points of the game by way of a Miguel Recinos field goal from 43 yards.
Iowa took the lead with just one play on their next offensive series when Nate Stanley found a wide open Nick Easley down the field, and Easley took off and managed to reach the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown before a defender could close in on him with the angle.
Things got even worse for Mississippi State on the ensuing possession. Nick Fitzgerald was strip-sacked by Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa, giving the Hawkeyes the football at the Mississippi State 13-yard line. Stanley then connected with Ihmir Smith-Marsette two plays later to give Iowa a 17-6 lead.
Mississippi State looked like they had a chance to cut into the lead just before halftime, but a holding penalty at the line of scrimmage wiped out a big pass play to inside the 10-yard line.
No. 18 Mississippi State (2-0) proved to be much too powerful in two key areas against Kansas State (1-1). The Bulldogs went on the road and used a strong defensive effort and a powerful performance from running back Kylin Hill to leave town with a 31-10 victory against the Wildcats. Hill rushed for 211 yards and two touchdowns and added one touchdown reception in the win, while the defense held the home team to 197 yards of total offense.
Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald made his season debut for the Bulldogs after sitting out of the season opener due to a suspension. Fitzgerald did not light up the field with his arm (11-of-27 for 154 yards) but he did throw two touchdown passes and he made up for it with his 159 rushing yards. But the story of the game was Hill, the sophomore running back who made a name for himself against Kansas State Saturday afternoon.
At one point in the fourth quarter, Hill had more offensive production than Kansas State, demonstrating just how much of an advantage Mississippi State had with Hill and the defense, which have typically been Kansas State’s bread and butter.
The last time Kansas State gave up over 300 yards of rushing offense in a regular season game was on Nov. 8, 2014 when TCU rushed for 334 yards. UCLA is the last team to go for at least 300 rushing yards, doing so later in that season in the bowl game with 331 rushing yards. The 372 rushing yards by Mississippi State was the most allowed by Kansas State since 2010 when Nebraska rushed for 451 yards.
Mississippi State returns home next week to host Louisiana-Lafayette in one last non-conference game before jumping into the SEC schedule in Week 4. Kansas State will play a third straight home game next week with a game against UTSA. The Wildcats open Big 12 play the following week at West Virginia.
After serving his one-game suspension for a violation of team rules last week, quarterback Nick Fitzgerald made his 2018 season debut for Mississippi State this afternoon on the road against Kansas State. His first series of the year did not last very long, as the Bulldogs went three-and-out to open the game. Despite a tough first half of play, Fitzgerald and the Bulldogs do own a 17-3 lead on Kansas State at halftime in Manhattan, Kansas.
Mississippi State was able to open up a 14-point lead in the second quarter after the defense got an interception by Erroll Thompson, which led to a 28-yard touchdown run by Kylin Hill. Before that sequence, the game had been pretty close with defenses dictating the tempo of the game by not allowing many big-play opportunities.
Kansas State benefitted from the result of a controversial instant replay ruling. After appearing to have forced and recovered a fumble from Wildcats quarterback Skylar Thompson inside the red zone, officials ruled Thompson had enough control for a throwing motion and ruled the play an incomplete pass.
After being awarded possession of the football would tie the game with a 26-yard field goal by Blake Lynch.
Mississippi State appears to be in a comfortable spot with the way the defense is playing. Kansas State has 11 yards of total offense and has gone 2-of-7 on third down conversions. The Wildcats may not have the offense needed to come back so the Wildcats will have to make some big plays happen on defense to help out.
One of the top quarterbacks in the SEC will not get the chance to start on opening day this weekend. Head coach Joe Moorhead announced Nick Fitzgerald has been suspended for the season opener due to a violation of team rules. Keytaon Thompson will get the start instead for Week 1.
The exact nature of the violation is unconfirmed, although the incident that resulted in the suspension-worthy violation is reported to have occurred in March. Barring any other announcements, it is expected Fitzgerald will be reinstated for Mississippi State’s road contest at Kansas State in Week 2, but an announcement from Moorhead will have to confirm that at a later time.
Fitzgerald passed for 1,782 yards and 15 touchdowns and rushed for 984 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Bulldogs last season. His ability to be a dual-threat seemingly makes for an ideal quarterback for Moorhead as he takes over the program.
Thompson appeared in 10 games last season, in which he completed 32 of 66 pass attempts for 388 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Thompson also rushed for 446 yards and six touchdowns, and he should be a suitable fill-in as a starter for Mississippi State’s season opener, even against a solid FCS program.
Defensive tackle Cory Thomas was also suspended by Moorhead for the season opener.
Mississippi State hosts Stephen F. Austin on Saturday.